6 Simple Tips for Doing Airbnb Family Travel

April 29, 2016

For traveling families, finding lodging that can accommodate a family of four or more can be a challenge. Hotels can be expensive, if you need to book two or more rooms at a time. And hostels are not always very family-friendly. That's why we enjoy doing Airbnb family travel.

One of the things I love about travel is the opportunity to experience a new culture. That's why we enjoy sites like Airbnb. They offer families like us the opportunity to have a local experience while not having to pay an arm and a leg for it. What's more, most Airbnb family travel rentals are still owned by everyday people who happen to have an extra space that they want to share with others. So we are doing our part to help the local economy and traveling more sustainably.

This post was updated on March 1, 2021.

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Visiting Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

What is Airbnb, and why should families use it?

Airbnb is a booking platform that offers travelers rooms or houses to rent for short-term stays. Families can book places to stay for as short as a day. Or they can stay for as long as several months. Many of the properties on Airbnb are owned by locals who have an extra room or home for travelers.

For families, doing Airbnb family travel can make booking travel accommodations more affordable. Rather than resorting to multiple hotel rooms, families can book an Airbnb that can accommodate the whole family in one unit. And if you book a property with a kitchen, you can save even more travel dollars by cooking your own meals.

In cities like Seattle, San Diego, or Paris, where lodging prices can be extremely expensive, renting lodging through Airbnb is a trip saver!

Enjoying our Airbnb in New York City (July 2014)

Is Airbnb family travel safe?

Some families have concerns about the safety of Airbnb family travel. We've read stories of guests get attacked while staying at Airbnb's. Other stories we've read involve hosts putting cameras in their properties (scary!).

And especially during these pandemic times, concerns about the cleanliness of a property, and the spread of the COVID-19 virus, are valid things to concern.

But from our experience, Airbnb properties tend to be pretty safe. Many properties now offer keyless entry, with codes that are changed for each guest. And staying at properties that are exclusive to your family (meaning, you book the entire property rather than a room in a property), can actually limit your risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Playing ukulele on the balcony of our Hanoi Airbnb (March 2020)

Making the most of your Airbnb family travel stay

Not all Airbnb family travel experiences are created equal, though. While we've had some stellar experiences, we've also had some mediocre ones. Similarly, not all Airbnb guests are created equal. Some are excellent guests, taking care of the home they're staying at. Others can be pretty horrible, treating the space worse than their own home.

Something that's pretty great about Airbnb, though, is that guests can be rated and reviewed, just like hosts. So hosts actually do have some control over who stays in their home.

For families who travel and use Airbnb, it's sometimes challenging to find a suitable place for the whole family. Hosts are sometimes reluctant to host families because kids can make a mess of a place or break things. Fortunately, I have a few tips you can follow to make your stay with Airbnb enjoyable both for you AND your host. We've been using Airbnb since 2009, and have mainly had great experiences. Here are my tips for how families can do Airbnb family travel.

Enjoying our tiny house stay in Colorado Springs, USA (August 2018)

1. Know what you want out of your Airbnb family travel experience

The first thing to do before even looking for an Airbnb place is to identify your expectations. What is it that you want from your experience? Are you expecting a luxurious experience where you'll be pampered and tended to like in a hotel? Or are you looking for some place where you can actually talk to your hosts and have a cup of coffee with them.

When we had our Airbnb family travel experience in Portland, we didn't even see our hosts. But we had everything that we could possibly want or need at our fingertips. And the place was set up much like a hotel, with toiletries, coffee, and extra towels.

On the other hand, we stayed at an Airbnb place in Vancouver, BC several years back where we had breakfast with our hosts and spent several hours chatting with them about what they did for a living (they were dancers for a local ballet company). That experience felt more like a typical bed and breakfast experience rather than a hotel. Identifying what you want ahead of time can also help you better decide on the property that will best fit your needs.

Hanging out in the hammock in Puerto Escondido, Mexico (January 2019)

2. Read the reviews before hand

In the sharing economy, reviews are what makes the whole system work. Sites like Airbnb are built on trust. Unlike a standard hotel or bed and breakfast, these are individuals who are opening up their homes to you (although we've found that more and more, especially during our travels in Asia, guest houses and small hotels are also using Airbnb to attract potential customers). There is no Better Business Bureau report on these individuals. Instead, potential guests have the reviews of former guests to base their decisions.

If you're considering a property, really take time to read the reviews and look at the ratings. What parts of the experience are positive and what parts are negative? How many reviews are there? You could have a property that has five stars, but only one review. While you could have another property that has 4.5 stars, but has fifty reviews. Which one would you feel more comfortable staying?

One thing to note about reviews is that as I mentioned before, guests get reviews too. If you're a frequent user of Airbnb like me, you'll have your own history of reviews. And hosts can take that into consideration when you try and book a stay with them. Keep that in mind as you stay at these places.

The entrance to an Airbnb in Italy that families can book for Airbnb family travel.
Our Airbnb near Parma, Italy (June 2019)

3. Communicate with your host

When you've found a place that you're interested in, go ahead and reach out to the host before booking. The "Instant Book" feature on Airbnb makes it easier to book a place without having to wait to be accepted by the host, but I actually prefer not to use that feature. I like making that initial contact with the host. It gives me a chance to see if that place is actually suitable for a family or not.

While looking for an Airbnb in Vietnam recently, there were several properties we were interested in: one was an apartment with cute bamboo decor, and the other was a townhouse with a rooftop deck. After messaging the hosts of each place, we found out that the first option was on the sixth floor of a building with no elevator. So we opted for the townhouse.

Messaging the host before booking also gives you a chance to see what kind of hosts they are. Are these hosts responsive? Are they accommodating? Do you get a good feeling from them? Since we're traveling with kids, we want to be extra sure that we're taking our family into a safe situation. You can ask about parks, restaurants, or grocery stores nearby if you just need something to ask about.

A laptop and cup on a blue table on a rooftop deck, part of an Airbnb property that families can book for Airbnb family travel
Working on our rooftop deck at our Airbnb in Hanoi, Vietnam (March 2020)

4. Be flexible with your Airbnb family travel options

In travel, especially family travel, plans will undoubtedly change. Being flexible is key to having a stress-free travel experience. With Airbnb, sometimes things don't work out. You can show up at a property, and it can be completely different than what is presented in the property description. This happened to us in our early days of using Airbnb. We had booked a place in New York City that looked absolutely cute in the pictures, but in reality turned out to be just a room with a bed in a not so ideal neighborhood.

In that instance, we weren't traveling with our kids, so we ended up staying. But had we been traveling with kids, we might have considered looking elsewhere that night. It's important to have some flexibility with your travel plans (and travel budget!), because sometimes things may not be quite what you expected.

Hammocks at an Airbnb in Mexico, where families can book for Airbnb family travel
Hammocks at our Airbnb in Puerto Escondido, Mexico (January 2019)

5. Tidy up after yourself

This is something my family and I always make a point of doing at the end of our stay: leave the place as close to how it was when you found it. Remember, at the end of the day, you are still a guest staying at someone's home. Always make sure you treat the property with respect. That means, if you break something (which may happen sometimes when you're traveling with kids), either make an effort to replace it, or provide a note explaining what happened.

These little details will not only earn you karma points with your future Airbnb family travel experiences, but they can also leave a positive impression of you for your host. This can lead to a positive review of you as a guest.

A tiny house Airbnb that families can book for Airbnb family travel
Staying at a tiny house in Colorado (August 2018)

6. Leave a thank you note at the end of your Airbnb family travel experience

A final little thing we like to do is to leave a thank you note. People love to get positive feedback. This is a psychological fact. And if you had a great Airbnb family travel experience, it's important to let the host know that so they can do it right again the next time for their next guest. We carry along some cute stationary or thank you cards for this very reason.

Similarly, if there were some things about your stay that was less than ideal, go ahead and provide that feedback to them. Going back to the topic of reviews, I always take the time to review a property after I've stayed there because I think of it as a courtesy to future guests.  Just remember, as with giving feedback in any other medium, try and put a positive spin on any criticism that you may have.

During a recent Airbnb experience, there was one window in the place that didn't have a curtain or frosted glass covering it. It was fine during the day, but at night, we felt completely exposed. I made a note of it in my thank you note to our host, but also made sure to mention how much we enjoyed our stay overall.

Graffiti in New York City (September 2018)

Don't be afraid to try Airbnb with your family

If you're new to the whole Airbnb family travel experience, you may be hesitant to try for fear of having a bad experience. But in my years of using Airbnb, the majority of my experiences have been positive. The trick to Airbnb is knowing what to do to get the most out of your stay. Fortunately, these tips will help you and your family have an enjoyable Airbnb family travel experience.

Have you used Airbnb on your family travels? Let me know how your experience was. (Note: I did not get any kind of compensation from Airbnb. I just love it so much!)

Six Tips For Doing Airbnb Family Travel | The Wandering Daughter

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